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By Daniel C. Houston
A tenured Baylor professor has hired attorneys to defend himself against a dismissal charge that could bring his 13-year career at Baylor to an end.
Dr. Marc Ellis, director of the university’s Center for Jewish Studies, said Baylor President Ken Starr approved charges against him in June at least in part because of his outspoken criticism of the state of Israel and other opinions he has made public over his career.
Lori Fogleman, director of media relations, acknowledged charges are being processed against Ellis, but denied much of Ellis’ narrative.
“There are a number of factual errors contained in public comments he has made,” Fogleman said. “First, it is absolutely false that Baylor President Ken Starr approved or filed charges against Dr. Ellis. … [Second], the university categorically denies Dr. Ellis’ assertion that expression of his academic freedom has played any role whatsoever in the charges that have been filed in this case.”
Ellis made the statements on Nov. 22 at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting, where he said he has become the victim of selective enforcement of policies regarding “alleged offenses reportedly routine at Baylor.” Among the consequences of the investigation, Ellis said his job duties have been systematically eroded, culminating in the canceling of all his courses in the Fall 2011 semester.
“Former Baylor University presidents Herbert Reynolds, Robert Sloan, John Lilley and [interim president] Bill Underwood were protective of me against tides of criticism which powerful others swept to my feet through the years,” Ellis said at the meeting. “About that I have remained relatively silent but very grateful. Thus, I wondered when Kenneth Starr became president if the protections would change.”
Baylor will not disclose or comment on the details of the charges unless Ellis provides his written consent or decides to release them himself.
According to Baylor’s faculty dismissal policy, tenured professors may only be dismissed for the following reasons: “Failure to perform assigned University duties in a competent manner;” “Repeated failure to comply with University policies” or regulations; “Gross abuse of trust in faculty-student relationship;” or engaging in moral misconduct, committing a felony or behavior violating Baptist standards of conduct.
Ellis declined to comment for this article and referred all questions to one of his attorneys, Roger Sanders of Sherman, who said he is filing a request for additional information from the university before going into any more detail about the charges.
“It is my belief that Baylor has treated certain professors one way and has treated Professor Ellis another,” Sanders said. “In this case, they chose to confront Dr. Ellis that he will resign, or else. … I believe that, on that basis, Baylor has chosen to pick and choose which rules it can enforce and against which people.”
Ellis also announced the formation of a committee to publicly defend him from the charges, which has introduced a petition on the website Change.org titled “Kenn Starr [sic] (Clinton Nemesis) and President of Baylor: Stop Persecution Against Prof. Marc Ellis.”
The petition, whose title refers to Starr’s role as independent counsel during the investigation of U.S. President Bill Clinton, had collected more than 1,000 signatures as of press time and claims Baylor is rewriting its rules in order to silence a Jewish voice of dissent. The petition does not specify which rules its authors believe are being rewritten.
The committee is co-chaired by Dr. Cornel West, Princeton professor and prominent public intellectual, as well as feminist scholar Dr. Rosemary Reuther.
Fogleman could not confirm when the charges would be considered by the university dismissal committee. According to the faculty dismissal policy, the committee may hold a hearing and make a recommendation to Starr of continuing or terminating tenure. A decision to dismiss Ellis can be appealed to the Baylor Board of Regents.
Starr was not available for comment by Tuesday’s deadline.